Why a dead ringer’s a dead ringer!

September 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

I love finding out the origin of phrases and ‘dead ringer’ is a pretty spectacular one, to say the least.

A ‘dead ringer’ is somebody who looks very much like someone else and the expression stems back to Medieval Ages. Back in the day medical science wasn’t what it is now and when someone seemed to have stopped breathing, medics weren’t terribly sure that they were actually dead. Ridiculous as this may sound, the poor sickly person was buried anyway, rather than clutter up the place! To be fair, it’s thought that comas weren’t understood at that time and that could be one of the reasons that people were thought to be lifeless.

Often bodies were exhumed and corpses were found with their fingers literally worn down to the bone and the insides of coffin lids scratched silly by the poor people, who had regained consciousness, trying to escape. So nightmarish was this vision that the gentry began to bury their loved ones with a string attached to their wrist, connected to a bell – and should the medics have the diagnosed death wrongly, the prematurely buried body could ring for attention.

It sounds like a bit of a pantomime but it actually worked and many bodies were dug up and returned to where they belonged (above ground).

As the freshly-exhumed went about their normal life, though, they shocked acquaintances who thought they were dead. Friends would wonder: ‘That looks like Fred Smith – he was buried last month’ and then they’d figure ‘Oh, he must be a dead ringer.’ And, of course, they would have been right!

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I could of screamed…

September 11, 2013 § 1 Comment

…when I realised how many people actually thought ‘of’ was the right word to put before ‘screamed’ in that sentence!

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We live in a world where there are so many opportunities (texts/Facebook, for example) for people to prove that they didn’t listen much in their English class – where the teacher would have taught them to write ‘have screamed’. Am I sounding a bit old-school? Can’t help it.

Another howler that drivers me bonkers is the mess that’s made with there, their and they’re. I’m not going to insult anyone by explaining what each of them means because I’m sure everyone knows, they just don’t bother to choose the right one and select any old right-sounding ‘there’ in the belief it will ‘do’ Well, it won’t – for me  or for many others who are particular about the language. Same muddle goes for too and to – two is stretching the case a bit. Then there’s it’s and its. Why not just spend another nano-second to work out whether ‘it is’ something or possession is involved.

THE most common written error award has to be handed to misuse of the humble apostrophe and, in particular, misuse of the apostrophe to denote plural,  eg. photo’s. There’s no logical reason to put an apostrophe there but the poor little mite gets mangled and squished into all sorts of places it has no right to be. I wrote about it in more depth here: Apostrophe Protection Society 

Although, weirdly, it’s so often overlooked when it’s really needed – rudely and routinely dumped, for example, by those who want to know what ‘you’re’ doing but chuck a ‘your’ in place of the right word.

What’s your bugbear when it comes to the written word?

Remember…words can’t smile

September 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

If you’re ever tempted to send a jokey email to a customer – thinking a light-hearted message is going to be welcomed among the masses of corporate nonsense they receive, remember…your words may be taken at face value. Words can’t smile; they don’t have a tone of voice and they can’t see if the recipient is taking the message too seriously when it was only intended to be a bit of fun.

The reason I’m prompted to write this post is because I received one such ‘jokey’ email today and it sent me into panic mode because I thought I’d upset the client. I called immediately and asked if the copy wasn’t quite what the company had expected?

Of course it was, I was told – why?

Err..because they’d asked if I needed a bit more time to think about the wording before sending it over. That seemed a fair indication that they wanted something slightly different.

Oh no – they’d written that because they’d received the copy more quickly than anticipated and they were actually trying to compliment me.

Ah, I see. But.. joke ruined. Compliment ruined. Down to me now to salvage the working relationship. (It’s ok – I have. That’s why I feel comfortable writing about the incident!)

Anyway, it’s a good illustration of how, with the best will in the world, your joke can bomb because it’s written and the written word is completely unhelpful when it comes to delivering humour. That’s why ‘Smileys’ and other similar emoticons were invented, I presume, or why we have to say ‘haha’ at the beginning of a sentence we intend to be amusing.

Of course there are novels that are written with humour (we know that because we’re told in the blurb on the jacket, so we’re prepared) but when a business email comes and out-of-the-blue tries to be funny, it takes a very skilled writer to be able to pull that one off.

The answer? Be friendly and cut out corporate speak if you want to make good contact with you client but leave jokes/humour for face-to-face times. The written word can be so unforgiving.

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